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SpaceX forced to abort Starship ‘hop’ after engine trouble

Published Aug 4th, 2020 4:02PM EDT
starship abort
Image: Miguel Roberts/The Brownsville Herald via AP

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  • SpaceX was preparing to launch its Starship prototype on a short “hop” test, but engine trouble halted the test at the last possible second.
  • An issue with the engine triggered an automatic abort, according to SpaceX boss Elon Musk.
  • SpaceX is planning to try the test launch again soon.

Between trips to the International Space Station, satellite launches, and the seemingly neverending deployment of the company’s own Starlink communications hardware, SpaceX has a lot of projects going on at any given moment. One of its biggest is Starship, the company’s big bet on the future of space travel that could one day ferry humans to other planets and — if SpaceX boss Elon Musk is right — other star systems.

Before it can do any of that, it has to actually make it off the ground, and it almost did so yesterday. The company’s SN5 Starship prototype was being readied to fly on its first sub-orbital “hop” test when an issue popped up at the last possible second.

The company had a nice long launch opportunity within which to test its Starship hardware, but waited until late in the 12-hour window to begin fueling and prepping the spacecraft for the test. Musk tweeted that the test was coming up shortly, but the Raptor engine in the prototype just wasn’t up for the task.

Just moments before it was supposed to launch, “a Raptor turbopump spin start valve didn’t open,” according to Musk. That glitch resulted in the spacecraft “triggering an automatic abort.” That’s a bummer, but Musk noted that the team will “figure out why & retry tomorrow.”

As Teslarati points out, this glitch appears to be similar to the one that halted a static fire test of the Raptor engine in late July. At that point, Musk tweeted: “Fuel spin valve didn’t open. Will fix & try again tomorrow. Also, some odd TVC hydraulic pump behavior.”

There’s obviously good news and bad news here. The bad news is that the Starship prototype didn’t manage to take off as planned. It’s a small setback, but SpaceX will figure it out. The good news is that SpaceX’s automatic abort features certainly seem to be in good working order, as both of the failed engine firings were triggered by automated systems that are built to protect the spacecraft and anyone nearby from potential danger.

In any case, the company is preparing to try again as soon as today. The hop test won’t be the most exciting thing in the world — the prototype will fly for a very short distance and attempt to land upright again — but it’s an important milestone for the Starship program nonetheless. Starship is a very big deal for SpaceX, and while the project will take quite a while, the results could provide new capabilities for humans exploring space.

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